This Women’s History Month, we celebrate the many incredible women who built the foundation and continue to shape the future of Levine Music. They are the visionaries, leaders, and teachers who envisioned and created Levine as a welcoming space for music lovers of all ages and backgrounds in the DC region. These women inspire us with their dedication and passion, and their stories showcase the power of following a spark of an idea and the lasting impact it can have on a community.

Let’s delve into the inspiring journeys of just a few of the remarkable women in our organization’s history and discover how they’ve composed a legacy of music education and appreciation at Levine. 

Selma M. Levine

Selma LevineSelma M. Levine was an accomplished attorney, amateur musician, patron of the arts, and devoted friend. In her professional life, she was a trial lawyer in the food and drug division of the Department of Health Education and Welfare and a law clerk for Judge David Bazelon on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She eventually became a partner in the Washington law firm of Wald, Harkrader & Ross, an exceptional accomplishment as “women made up less than 5 percent of attorneys in the U.S. from 1950 to 1970,” according to the American Bar Association.

An amateur pianist, Selma loved to encourage musicians young and old, and her friends still fondly remember gatherings in her Washington, DC apartment dedicated to music and friendship. A tragic car accident cut her life short in 1975, but her memory lives on through Levine Music.

Jackie Marlin, Diana Engel, and Ruth Cogen sat at a pianoLevine’s Founding Team

Ruth Cogen, Diana Engel, and Jackie Marlin were all native New Yorkers before moving to Washington, DC, in the early sixties. Each of the women had a musical background: Ruth was a choir member; Diana studied piano and violin; and Jackie studied piano and played guitar. They noticed that the nation’s capital lacked the abundance of opportunities for music education that they’d experienced in New York, and so, in 1976, Ruth, Diana, and Jackie put their heads together to create a space for everyone to experience the joy of music, regardless of background or experience.

They chose to name their school in memory of their dear friend Selma, and The Selma M. Levine School of Music was born. What began with just 20 students in a church basement on Massachusetts Ave NW has since grown to six physical campuses as well as a post-pandemic virtual campus, serving many thousands today. In the early days of Levine, our founders handled every aspect of running the school, from fundraising to hiring teachers and meeting with students.

Jackie and Diana volunteered as co-directors of Levine Music from 1976 to 1980, at which time our Board of Trustees established the Marlin Engel Solo Competition to honor their contributions. In 1983, the Ruth P. Cogen Competition was established to recognize Ruth not only as one of our founders but also as the first chair of the Board of Trustees.

Levine Music's Founders

In 1996, when our trio of co-founders were recognized as Washingtonians of the Year, Diana stated: “We’re thrilled when students become professional performers, but equally delighted to build a community of music lovers and amateur musicians.” That vision continues to inspire us as our Levine community grows and thrives in our shared connection through music.

Read “A Trio Con Brio” for more about Jackie, Ruth, and Diana.

Joanne Sheehy HooverOur First Executive Director Moves Levine Forward

Joanne Sheehy Hoover served as Levine’s first professional Executive Director from 1980-1993. Joanne was a pianist and former music critic for The Washington Post. During her time as Director, Joanne began Levine’s community outreach programs, including partnerships with D.C. Public Schools, and vastly expanded the diversity of Levine’s offerings. She oversaw Levine’s relocation from the basement of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church on Foxhall Road to the former dormitory of the Convent of the Good Shephard on 36th Street and, ultimately, the purchase of our permanent home on Upton Street.

After her time at Levine, Joanne relocated to Santa Fe, NM, and continued her music critic career for the Albuquerque Journal. She also authored five collections of poetry; the last of these, Urge to Dance, was published in 2011.

 While this is just a small number of the incredible women who make up the Levine community, their impact is felt every day. We’re proud to be part of their stories and continued legacy. To learn more about influential women in music, check out our recent blog post, “Recognizing Trailblazing Women in Music History.”